Painted Caves – Surveillance (2013)

This week could not have been any worse; I can be thankful that I’ve had little to no lectures. Besides a sore throat, crushing headache and coughing fits, I’m now partially deaf in one ear, which makes listening to music something of an interesting challenge. That being said, it is high time that music be reviewed, so here we go. Surveillance, by Painted Caves.

I think the concepts played out by this album are relatively obvious, and don’t really need spelling out. Paranoia, the feeling of being watched and monitored, it’s something that should be on everyone’s minds in this day and age if it isn’t already. Not only are we caught on a thousand digital eyes as we leave the house, we are tracked across the internet as we hop from site to site. Painted Caves want to make this clear and I think it comes across strongly. We leap straight into “Never Alone” with flat and stark percussion driving home the mean, arrhythmic, mechanical drones that underpin the piece, these shadowy figures that lurk in the backfield just out of sight but not quite out of mind, faceless and creepy. The glowing glitch stutters in the latter half transmogrify into more determined rhythmic beats into the gorgeously dark “Flesh On Tape”, the slow flicker of CRT displays in the dark as a bass beat establishes itself and a distant synth riffs roll through the mix in waves of activity, following. The slow, consistent melodies begin to fragment and distort, pick up tempo and volume as the fear sets in; we try to run but the cameras switch endlessly; we’re always in the sightlines.

“Leningrad” presents a comparatively harsher tone as saw-waves abrade the piece during its opening sequences before we slipstream into more Minimal Techno movements. Cool, dark, bass heavy beats creep alongside these fluttering fragments of electronic noise and drone. It’s a slow arc of sound, like a city bathed in twilight just itching for the Sun to finally relinquish its grasp and embrace nightfall. Its polyrhythms stand poised almost on the edge of chaos; it’s clear there’s a barely restrained excitable beast of sound lurking just below the surface. It finishes as unceremoniously as it starts, fading out into the abyss and welcoming in “Event Boundary” in its stead. Again, another track that seems to cruise along on the edge of safety, barely restraining itself as it slowly rises on a bed of scurrying electronica and static arcs.

“Shadow Gamelan” has something of an early-Biosphere vibe to it with its reverb heavy minimal electronic instrumentation soundscape. Pulses of sound call out from somewhere deep within the void and go bouncing off the walls, voices calling out but going ignored and unanswered. But then as we progress new textures join the fray, signals going back and forth between lost souls, some sense of companionship in this lonely and forbidding darkness, echoing off one another. They retreat as friends into the once again more driven “Loft Life”, I suppose a better way of saying “basement life”. But refuge at home is little refuge from prying eyes, as we well know. Despite this, tales are being spun and plots being made in the dark, slow beats being spun out like they were in the early album, but this time quieter and with more care so as to avoid detection. The sound is flatter than before, muffled and stifled by thick walls and heavy air, shimmers of grinding noise rolling over the top.

Closer “Stalker” arrives after only 25 minutes of runtime and it’s the best and grittiest piece of them all. Have the roles been reversed? Has the stalked become the stalker? Those heavy synths walk strong footsteps in this the most empowered of all the tracks. Whistling electronic beams cut through the piece, like distressed digital bird calls, and then distant and processed voices churn away, barely audible above the thick drone fog that permeates the track. It continues in this vein for sometimes before the mark is lost, the voices disappearing into the night air and the hunt is off, the music subsequently falling apart as it loses its sense of purpose.

Despite what I’ve said, I don’t think this is an album about emulation, about becoming evil and becoming the stalker following the study of evil, I think it’s the natural progression from brazen and out-in-the-open monitoring to more obscure, secretive means. People objectify being watched so openly out in public at all hours of the day by the government, but they still want to, so who’s to say they wont do it in secret? After all, it’s not a problem until somebody finds out about it, right? I think this album says a lot about the current state of affairs when it comes to our privacy and lack thereof. It’s another short one but it says everything it needs to within its curt 32 minutes, and it’s extremely accessible.